CHRIS WHEELER: Man United have a fitting match to honour Sir Bobby

CHRIS WHEELER: It’s fitting that Man United’s first home match since Sir Bobby Charlton’s passing is in the European Cup, which defined the great man

  • Man United host Copenhagen in Europe in their first home game since Saturday 
  • Sir Bobby Charlton, a European Cup great, died at the weekend aged 86 
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’

The European Cup defined Sir Bobby Charlton’s life as a Manchester United player. From the horror and devastation of Munich to the guts and glory of Wembley a decade later, he embodied Sir Matt Busby’s quest for the Holy Grail.

No one really talks about the three league titles Charlton won at United, or the FA Cup triumph over Leicester City in 1963. It was all about ’58 and ’68.

The image of a 20-year-old Charlton lying in bed with his head bandaged in the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich after he was hauled from the plane wreckage by goalkeeper Harry Gregg, is set against the pictures 10 years later of the United captain in a sweat-sodden blue jersey hoisting the European Cup above his head after scoring twice in the final against Benfica.

It is why Charlton will stand for all time alongside George Best and Denis Law, their United Trinity statue facing Busby’s in front of Old Trafford.

It has become the natural focal point for those wishing to pay their respects to Sir Bobby since he passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning at the age of 86, and to where many will inevitably gravitate this evening.

The European Cup defined Sir Bobby Charlton’s life as a Manchester United player

It is very fitting that Man United’s first home game since losing Charlton should be in Europe

How fitting then that United’s first home game since losing arguably their greatest ever player should be in Europe.

The Champions League tie against FC Copenhagen will be an emotionally-charged occasion, as will the Manchester derby back there on Sunday, as United honour Charlton.

Erik ten Hag admitted that Tuesday is a must-win game after United lost their opening two Group A fixtures, but Sir Bobby was never far from everyone’s thoughts during Monday’s pre-match conference at Carrington. A minute’s silence was held beforehand and Ten Hag described how Charlton’s spirit will be with United as they venture into Europe once more.

‘He is in front of Old Trafford with Denis Law and George Best,’ said the United manager. ‘He is always with us and they are always a huge inspiration for us every day in every game.

‘Bobby was a legend, a giant, not only for Manchester United but for football. So his legacy, the high standards, we have to live every day. What he meant for Manchester United, and the standards he set, they were emphasised in the last couple of days.

‘It is always special, every night at Old Trafford. The fans are always so behind us. Remember the last home game against Brentford: even when the game is not going in our direction, they stayed behind us in difficult moments.

‘In moments of adversity the fans are still with us and fighting. Definitely, tomorrow after the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton, their hero, the legend who died, will be more emotional.

‘First, we want to win as a tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton, but also you want always to do that in a certain way, and that is what we are aiming for. You don’t always play that well but you have to find a way to win. I was happy on Saturday with the second goal.’

Sitting alongside Ten Hag was Diogo Dalot who scored that goal, curling home to secure a 2-1 win at Sheffield United.

That brought some rather sentimental comparisons with Charlton even though, in truth, he was far more likely to belt a ball than try to curl it.

It was put to Dalot that Charlton was England’s Eusebio, who played for Benfica against United that night at Wembley in May 1968, but the Portuguese didn’t need any comparisons to guide him.

‘When I arrived here, I always tried to know a little more about the history of the club,’ said Dalot. ‘Hearing about Sir Bobby was something you had to do, if you were here for one day or several years. I was fortunate enough to get to know him since I arrived. He was always there after the games to give you a word of appreciation. At times he would even say we had to play a little bit better.’

Charlton was an England and Manchester United icon and was much loved and respected 

Diogo Dalot and Erik ten Hag paid tribute to the legend ahead of the Copenhagen game

If the love for Sir Bobby was clear to everybody in the room on Monday, the same couldn’t be said of Ten Hag’s team news as he caused a stir with an apparent reference to Jadon Sancho.

In explaining that Sergio Reguilon could be fit to return against Copenhagen on Tuesday, the Dutchman’s pronunciation of ‘Sergio’ sounded very much like ‘Sancho’ who continues to train in isolation elsewhere at Carrington.

Had he said Sancho? No-one was quite sure enough to bring up such a touchy subject on an occasion like this. By the time United clarified Ten Hag’s comments, Sky Sports were breaking the news that Sancho was on his way back, and it had been picked up by other outlets across social media.

That’s not how it worked in Sir Bobby’s day. It would be nice to think he was looking down on us all and laughing.

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